William S. Burroughs and the Language of Cyberpunk
The work of William S. Burroughs has often been credited as a primary influence on cyberpunk writing. The connection between the two, however, is more often cited than explained. Burroughs' “science-fiction” work (Nova Express, The Soft Machine, and The Ticket That Exploded, 1964-1967) was more experimental poetry than conventional science fiction, and had already come in and out of style by the time science fiction became theory-worthy. Times have changed. Today, theorists not only feel sf to be worthy of theory, but theory to be worthy of sf. To this end, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. has invited Jean Baudrillard and Donna Haraway into the sf fold; Scott Bukatman has extended a similar invitation to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. In this essay I would like to argue for the inclusion of William S. Burroughs as a diner at the sf theory dinner-party, especially to hear his theories of poetic action in a world where science fiction has become reality.
In spite of the riotous dark comedy and starkly innovative character of his writing, Burroughs' reputation has been chiefly as the writer whose book Naked Lunch (1959) challenged the conservative mores of post-war America. In recent years, many cuttings from Burroughs' texts have emerged in commercial culture as soundbites and cryptic political slogans.1 This phenomenon supports Burroughs' claims about the way language functions, and reflects the things he has tried to do with it. Laurie Anderson's Home of the Brave (1984) repopularized Burroughs' slogan “language is a virus,” which had first reached into popular consciousness over a decade before through Harper's magazine and Rolling Stone.2 The vogue which Burroughs' texts and ideas currently enjoy around the fringes of mainstream culture belies their continuous influence on the counter-culture since the 1950's. Their relevance to an understanding of post-modernity is confirmed by their intimate relationship with the generally fashionable texts of Guattari, Deleuze, Baudrillard, and Derrida. Burroughs is of course also one of William Gibson's principal sources, and the Burroughs fold-in method is a part of the history of cyberspace. The link that Burroughs makes between theory and sf lies in his understanding of the force of language, the danger it poses to free and evolving life, and just what a writer is supposed to do about it anyway.
In an issue of SCIENCE-FICTION STUDIES devoted to postmodernism and science fiction (1991), Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. raised the issue of the “operationality” of language in sf and in the “sf theory” of Baudrillard and Haraway. This concern with the effect of the written word is related to his argument that the texts of Baudrillard and Haraway constitute, in effect, a deconstruction of the terms “science” and “fiction.” Csicsery-Ronay argues that for these writers “the boundary between sf and social reality is an optical illusion” (Haraway, “Manifesto” 66; Csicsery-Ronay 393). He classes both Baudrillard and Haraway as sf theorists whose texts operate in a hyperreality in which the categories of subject, body, machine, and text have become thoroughly confused by the evolution of technology and its discursive ripples.
The question to be asked of these “theoretical” texts, then, is not “are they true” or “are they accurate” but rather, “what do they do?” Scott Durham's essay “The Technology of Death and Its Limits” (1993), an attempt to reconcile Baudrillard with J.G. Ballard,3 asks just this question of Baudrillard. Ballard's novel Crash (1966), which one might consider a bridge between Burroughs and contemporary cyberpunk fiction, deals in part with the “precession of simulacra” as expressed through “planned” automobile accidents. Durham uses Crash to illustrate a sort of comic failing that is characteristic of the actual functioning of cybernetic systems. Ballard, he argues, explores the leftover “reality” that Baudrillard dismisses as a desert. This interest in exploring society's marginalia, those events, spaces and characters that have slipped through the cracks in the planner's model—in Baudrillard's terminology, the “outside” of the simulation model—is essential to a “punk” ethos, and typical of the cyberpunk literature which Burroughs' texts indirectly foreshadow. While Burroughs uses the same black humour as does Ballard, explores the same marginal territory and like Ballard offers an antidote to totalitarian cybernetic systems, the absolute dismembering of conventional narrative in Burroughs' science-fictional works indicates a self-consciously operational inspiration, as opposed to a metaphoric one. The anti-narrative in his sf-derived works is what sets Burroughs apart from the science-fiction writers whose work he appropriated and those he has influenced, and is the reason Ballard has called Burroughs “the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War” (Miles, dust cover).
Durham concludes that the force of Baudrillard's hyperreality hyperbole, especially as expressed in “The Precession of Simulacra” (trans. 1983) and “The Ecstasy of Communication” (trans. 1988),4 is to effect a sort of supplication to the control system that is made comic by the revenge of the real—in the case of Crash, the accidental of the planned “accidents.” In other words, despite the apparent infallibilty of the simulation model, the desired life on the far side of the screen will not be manifested as planned. In the end, Durham concludes, “there is no real other than the relation to the spectacle he [Vaughn] has shared all along with his fellow victims” (166). Denied by Crash, Baudrillard's texts become for Durham just so many “soft machines,” confounding and contradicting their own revelations and necessarily failing in their attempts at totality.
Accepting that we do live in a world rapidly being enclosed by massive interconnected cybernetic machines, and that our words have no recourse to truth or accuracy as guarantors of their behavior, a question of pragmatics arises. How are we cyborg-writers to understand the effects of our words such that we are not unwittingly or unconsciously participating in the kinds of cybernetic machines we would prefer to avoid? In other words, since resistance implies an opposition of sorts, how can one mobilize one's forces when it is so difficult to tell who is “them” and who is “us”? Csicsery-Ronay describes this problem by imagining conventional language as a Trojan Horse which is carried into a utopian future and proceeds to disgorge the very same social relations which characterize the (dystopian) present. This is the situation which led Frederic Jameson, as Csicsery-Ronay notes, to call language the “informing aporia of sf” (Csicsery-Ronay 398). Haraway's response, Csicsery-Ronay argues, is to protect her imagined future from corruption by refusing to make it explicit or give it a name.5 Baudrillard's response, on the other hand, is to create a “logical delirium” in the reader through his hyperbolic prose.6 Both these strategies typify a reaction to cybernetic domination which Burroughs refers to, in Cageian terms, as Silence. The silence demanded by Burroughs is not a passive, a quietist, or a conservative silence, but rather a generative silence, a silence on the part of those faculties that manage representational meaning and enforce a controlling order on experience.7
1. Burroughs and Derrida: The Anarchist Use of Language. Burroughs is a key figure in the history of theoretical and textual resistance. A generation ago, we would not have been thinking about Gibson and Baudrillard, but if we were of a particular mind we might have been drawing connections between the experimental “science fiction” of Burroughs and the critique of logocentrism forwarded by Jacques Derrida. Although Burroughs and Derrida seem to make strange bedfellows, there is much that might have attracted them to one another. Each sought to challenge the reading and thinking habits of his audience and to shake the foundations of “totalitarian” systems of thought; since the 1960s, each has also become an iconic figure whose reputation threatens to outgrow his actual work. The two line up on the same side of most issues, the most noteworthy exception being their differing conceptions of the role of writing with respect to those totalitarian systems. Because writing confuses the defining categories of absence and presence, Derrida considers the very idea of writing to be a threat to metaphysically-based modes of Western thought (including structuralism) and the social order associated with them. Burroughs, on the other hand, understands writing as essentially a force alien to the human. He refers to it as “a virus that made the spoken word possible” (Odier, 13), and fingers it as the culprit responsible for the growth of totalitarian control systems of all shapes and sizes.8
At first glance, Burroughs' categorical separation of language and human being invites the same sort of deconstructive treatment Derrida gives other Western writers and thinkers. If language is not part of the human, just how does Burroughs define the human? Not as body; Burroughs is as famous as Gibson's console cowboys for his disdain of the human body. But if the body is nothing but an obsolete artifact, and language a virus infecting that artifact, just what is it that Burroughs feels so strongly about rescuing? I propose that Burroughs is attempting to direct us to the energy of continuous evolution, or mutation, which, temporarily embodied in the human, is in Burroughs' view under siege by the insidious self-replication of language.
One might conceivably relate Burroughs' ideal of continuous evolution to Deleuze-Guattari's “continuous variation” and even to différance, Derrida's playful neologism conflating the concepts of difference (in space) and defer-ence (in time). The function of différance is to act as a sort of anti-origin that, far from keeping any given thought-system stable, keeps everything moving and off-kilter. By temporarily “inhabiting” structuralist philosophical modes, Derrida does with traditional philosophy what Burroughs does with conventional science fiction. Burroughs twists the words of those fiction writers who imagine that humans can live in outer space like fish in a tank; Derrida critiques those philosophers who seek to revolutionize philosophy while repeating the same old (logocentric) thought-patterns. The governing structures of thought, both writers argue, must be shaken from within the communication networks through which they perpetuate themselves.
Derrida's “trick,” if I may be allowed such a crude reduction, is to work through the texts of the masters with one eye peeled for a seam to slip into. Once in, his meticulous scholarship is set to work stretching and reshaping the fabric not along normal patterns of use, but along lines of tension never tested by its creator, using the seam as a fulcrum. When challenged on his having made the seam into a centre, Derrida quickly moves his work elsewhere. His philosophical practice is not unlike the musical practice of an early twentieth-century composer, endlessly modulating at the very moments that tonal centres threaten to establish themselves. Through this mobile deconstruction, Derrida seeks to turn hierarchy into anarchy. Burroughs' approach to his source material is somewhat less intellectual, but the result, for the reader, is not dissimilar. Rather than looking for seams, Burroughs simply cuts and sews the garments randomly, keeping an eye out for the hidden patterns which begin to reveal themselves when the rationalist filters of everday perception are removed.
Perhaps the following well-known expression best relates Burroughs to Derrida: “`Nothing Is True—Everything Is Permitted—' Last Words Hassan I Sabbah” (Nova Express 149). Burroughs here locates the notion of “truth” as a device that acts to suppress possibility. For Derrida, this is the “transcendental signified” (280); for Haraway, it is “the one code that translates all meaning perfectly” (Simians 176). Just as Haraway finds her freedom in living as a cyborg in a cybernetic system that can't quite be closed, so did Derrida once find that, when nothing is true, the world becomes text. Conversely, everything is permitted when the “absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the play of signification infinitely” (Derrida 280). When everything is permitted, the result is anarchy. And anarchy is precisely what a cyberpunk aims at.
What Burroughs terms the viral function of language is its ongoing ordering of reality toward the limit of total control, the opposite of anarchy. He employs the figure of the virus, a force hovering between evolving being and mere replicator, to problematize conventional definitions of living and non-living.9 In Burroughs' cosmos, one must always remember that the words one transmits can never be neutral moves in the universal language-game; even if misfiring, some sort of force is necessarily being transmitted. This is the very problem addressed by Csicsery-Ronay when he cites Jameson's skepticism over sf's linguistic aporia. It is exceptionally difficult for any resistant message to avoid complicity with the dominant communication systems in whose language it is composed. If “a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo can cause a tornado in Toledo” (Porush 381), who knows what havoc a few well-chosen words could wreak in the infosphere? As responsible cyborg-writers, we'd best have a good idea how the “techsts” we use are going to function out there before we turn them loose. The trick, argues Burroughs, is to transmit a kind of force that doesn't immediately contribute to the virus-effect but can actually help work against it. The fold-in is the principle textual method of guerilla resistance against the virus (or, as Burroughs puts it in his science-fictional work, against the Nova Conspiracy); one takes a strongly linear form like the typewritten word, cuts it, and reassembles it such that its ordinative powers are deactivated.10 As apomorphine was Burroughs' antidote to morphine addiction, so silence is the antidote to word-addiction and the fold-in to order-addiction.11 This resistance, in Burroughs' work, is the only option under the circumstances of total occupation by Control.
2. Burroughs as Body without Organs. Scott Bukatman is another writer who has taken the role of language in contemporary sf as an issue to be addressed. In his article “Postcards from the Posthuman Solar System” (1991) and later in his book Terminal Identity (1993), Bukatman describes cyberpunks as “taking their cues from Burroughs and Pynchon as well as from Bataille and Breton and Dali and Man Ray.” In Bukatman's opinion, one of the principal tactics of cyberpunk writers is to, like Derrida and Burroughs, temporarily inhabit the “rational structures of technological discourse” in order to transform them into a “highly poeticized, dreamlike liberation” (SFS 351). Like Csicsery-Ronay, Bukatman would like to extend the boundaries of sf to include his own favourite theorist(s), Deleuze and Guattari. “Deleuze and Guattari are cyberpunks, too,” he writes, “constructing fictions of terminal identity in the nearly familiar language of techno-surrealism” (SFS 354).
Bukatman is interested in Deleuze and Guattari primarily for their idea of the “Body without Organs” (BwO), which he uses as a way to understand the non-unitary cyborg body. He argues that Ballard's Vaughan “seeks to crash through to attain that state of being without organs,” and that a comic-book character who is an android reproduction of Andy Warhol has in fact already attained it (354). To illustrate the tricky (anti-)concept of the BwO, Bukatman resorts to the same passage from Burroughs' Naked Lunch (10) as do Deleuze and Guattari:
In his place of total darkness mouth and eyes are one organ that leaps forward to snap with transparent teeth . . . but no organ is constant as regards either function or position . . . sex organs sprout anywhere . . . rectums open, defecate and close . . . the entire organism changes color and consistency in split-second adjustments. (SFS 353; Deleuze and Guattari [from “no organ” on] 153).
The Body without Organs, in this illustration, is a sort of ad hoc body, one whose configuration can change according to present need. Bukatman uses it as a way to explain what happens when the human is sublimated entirely into technology or text. In Terminal Identity Bukatman correctly concludes that the “BwO stands against the telos of theology and the order of instrumental reason” and that “it is also anti-armor” (325), but then is misled by Deleuze and Guattari's use of the passage from Naked Lunch. Bukatman defines the BwO as “a heterogenous system defined by the malleability of the organs and not just their absence” (325) and cites Cronenberg's Videodrome, Ballard's Crash, and performance artist Stelarc as examplifying this “malleability of organs.” In Deleuze and Guattari's use of terminology like “machine,” “appendix,” “spare part,” he argues, they are following the steps of Burroughs and Ballard in making use of technological language to create their own brand of sf theory. Bukatman then cavalierly claims that “the BwO is the state in which we aspire to dissolve the body and regain the world” (328). This allows him to segue into a chat about surface vs. depth, and to make the claim that “the surface of the body becomes the arena for dissolving the governing instrumental reason of the organism” (328).
To my mind Bukatman is off course in his concern with the malleability of bodies. The Body without Organs is more than a figure useful for illustrating the intermingling of the human body and technology. Its principle import is as one of the many deconstructive “sets of practices” Deleuze and Guattari advocate as a way to dismantle the (ideologically-determined) “self” in its relationship to organization and judgement. The BwO, they write, is a “practice,” not a “concept”; a “limit,” not a “goal”; the “full egg before the extension of the organism and the organization of the organs” (153). They relate it specifically to what they call “desire,” which is “a process without telos, intensity without intention” (Boundas 12). The BwO is deconstructive in that one can never achieve it; it is “always swinging between the surfaces that stratify it and the plane that sets it free” (Deleuze and Guattari 161). Their translator, Brian Massumi, paraphrases bodies without organs as “bundles of virtual affects” (93) in his discussion of the making-monstrous of a man who tries to become a dog. My own preference is to understand the BwO as a sort of ideal anarchist or Taoist existence in which energy flows freely within and through the individual, moving one between order and chaos; one works at it but can never completely achieve it.
Deleuze and Guattari theorize various BwOs at various stages of “fullness.” The full BwO, as opposed to the empty, “drugged body” or “masochist body,” is illustrated by the already quoted passage drawn from the opening routine of Naked Lunch. On the way to the full BwO, one encounters several types of “emptied” bodies, bodies without organs whose circulation of intensities nevertheless remains blocked. Deleuze and Guattari turn once again to Burroughs for an example of an empty body: “the drugged body, the experimental schizo,” indicated by the iteration of a scheme by Dr Benway's colleague Dr Schaefer, also drawn from Naked Lunch:12
the human body is scandalously inefficient. Instead of a mouth and an anus to get out of order why not have one all-purpose hole to eat and eliminate? We could seal up the nose and mouth, fill in the stomach, make an air hole direct into the lungs where it should have been in the first place. (150)
Before further explicating the “empty” BwO, it is instructive to return to the first quotation from Naked Lunch which Deleuze and Guattari and Bukatman use to illustrate the “full” BwO and put it in context. In this passage, a character referred to as “the Vigilante” has been sentenced to the Federal Nut House, an institution designed to contain ghosts. Alone in his cell, with nothing to organize or subdivide his need, the Vigilante has, in Deleuze and Guattari's reading, become the very image of a BwO, an undifferentiated body able to mobilize portions of itself ad hoc. The Vigilante is thus a figure of Deleuzian desire suspended in a moment of temporary isolation, eventually to return to the drugged body from which he emerged.
One clue to the relevance of the second quotation is the later citing by Deleuze and Guattari of Speed, a book written by Burroughs' (amphetamine-addicted) son, William Jr., as an expression of a “paranoid point, a point of blockage” (152) that prevents circulation at the level of the BwO. The junky (also exemplified by the pre-Naked Lunch Burroughs, Sr.) is thus defined as one who has moved toward the limit of the BwO but “botches” the job by achieving a body in which the intensities that pass are equal to zero. By “wildly destratifying” (160), the emptied bodies have made the mistake of emptying themselves of their own organs rather than seeking a point where they could momentarily dismantle the true enemy—organization itself. Burroughs himself worried about his extensive cut-up experiments ending up in just this way. It is not enough, obviously, to simply be done with the organs themselves, for when they are gone there is nothing from which to gain leverage. Deleuze and Guattari state that there is a fascist use of drugs (165) and this is clearly the use Burroughs sees in the function of junk.
Burroughs is an appropriate choice for Deleuze and Guattari not because these particular passages happen to be suitable illustrations of the BwO, but because Burroughs' own life experiences and theoretical orientation make him a model case for many of their ideas. As already noted, Burroughs himself shows an intense lack of interest in the human body, which he identifies as a sort of weakness, a foothold for the forces of control. Most of his writing, however, is intensely visceral in its imagery, relying heavily on descriptions of sexual interplay, deformed bodies, and especially olfactory experience. The sorts of “monsters” envisioned in the foregoing passages from Naked Lunch are quite typical of the imagery of that book, and would not be out of place in certain parts of his later, more “realistic,” writing also. These mixed-up bodies, however, are not what the BwO is all about; they are merely symptoms of Burroughs' own quest for the BwO. Burroughs originally made contact with junk in his attempts to throw off his stratified and stifling upper-class St. Louis upbringing, only to find that junk itself became a blockage point, preventing the circulation of desire because it in fact replaces desire itself. Drifting from one misadventure to another in his early adult years, Burroughs eventually found himself playing at the life of a small-time criminal and junkie in New York City, and the heroin habit he developed there lasted fifteen years. Unlike the crowd that started him on heroin, Burroughs continued to receive a monthly allowance from his parents of $200. This was more than just a symbol of his upbringing; it was a long, flexible tentacle of upper-class judgement keeping Burroughs in a state of arrested development. It was only when the allowance was cut off that he finally sought the infamous apomorphine cure and detoxified himself by writing the chaos of material that eventually became Naked Lunch. In becoming a writer, and in writing material to aid his own (Deleuzian) “becoming”13 and that of his readers, Burroughs can be counted among the few who have made it past the “drugged” BwO to approach the “full.” Burroughs' experimental texts are evidence of his conviction in the power of contintuous mutation through freedom from what Deleuze and Guattari might call “the molar order.”
3. Chaos—Anarchy—Enlightenment. The Body without Organs is not only a figure through which to grasp the import of Burroughs' work, but also one which can be used to understand Deleuze and Guattari's own work, especially A Thousand Plateaus (trans. 1987), a text in which the BwO is prominently featured. In this case, however, it may be easier to make use of another of Deleuze and Guattari's figures, the “rhizome,” which is related to the BwO but is more readily applicable to texts; in fact, Deleuze and Guattari do just this in their introduction to A Thousand Plateaus. Like Burroughs' work, A Thousand Plateaus is an attempt to function on the margin of both the medium (book) and the genre (philosophy, science fiction) by letting the conventions that define those discourses act as leverage points for resistance. Where Burroughs uses imitation and recombination to defuse the forces of push-button mind-and-body control, Deleuze and Guattari look past the sender-receiver relationship altogether and constitute their own work as a middle.
A plateau is always in the middle, not at the beginning or the end. A rhizome is made of plateaus. Gregory Bateson uses the word “plateau” to designate something very special: a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end. (22)
Eschewing mechanical randomizing technique (such as the fold-in), Deleuze and Guattari find their own method of making their text a multiple: “Each morning we would wake up, and each of us would ask himself what plateau he was going to tackle, writing five lines here, ten there” (22). Their motive was not to make their book grow from the roots up, but from the middle out. A Thousand Plateaus is thus “in assemblage” with its own outside, acting on “semiotic flows, material flows and social flows simultaneously” (23). Its translator, Brian Massumi, states that the book should be approached with the “plateau” in mind. The best way to read it, he argues, is to
pry open the vacant spaces that would enable you to build your life and those of the people around you into a plateau of intensity that would leave afterimages of its dynamism that could be reinjected into still other lives, creating a fabric of heightened states between which any number, the greatest number, of connecting routes would exist (xv).
“Some might call that promiscuous,” Massumi writes. “Deleuze and Guattari call it revolution” (xv). In their creation of an “open system” (xiv) that levers itself against the borders of the domain of philosophy, Deleuze and Guattari have developed their own parry to what Burroughs identifies as control. As Burroughs writes chaos to engender silence, Deleuze and Guattari write a rhizome to engender anarchy.
This notion of generative chaos is crucial to the “punk” aspect of cyberpunk writing. The understanding of chaos as a positive force in organisms and systems has gained acceptance with the popularizing of Ilya Prigogine's work, which in sf circles has been facilitated in part by Gibson, Sterling, and others, including Porush and Fischlin. It is equally important to understand the importance of chaos to experimental, subversive, or resistant communication strategies. Massumi refers extensively to Prigogine's theories in his User's Guide to A Thousand Plateaus (1993), particularly with respect to Deleuze-Guattari's underlying theory of language acquisition and development of the “self.” In A Thousand Plateaus, Guattari and Deleuze, like Baudrillard and even Burroughs, rely on a sort of “logical delirium” as a way to bring their work in touch with the generative powers of chaos. In their own way, they, like Burroughs, are writing silence—a silence that is not equal to zero, but rather is unrepresentable in a conventional cybernetic model of communication. The reason is that conventional cybernetic theory, drawn as it is from thermodynamic theory, equates order with life and disorder with death, in stark contrast with the theories of Burroughs, who sees a fixation with order as strangling the forces of life as they seek to mutate. As Massumi writes, Deleuze and Guattari understand chaos as a sea of virtuality which beings need to come in contact with in order to evolve. To this end, they intend their work to function as a “rhizome,” a multiplying multiplicity opening up the reader to the infinite possibility of becoming.
Though happy to borrow from Burroughs' texts to illustrate their ideas, Deleuze and Guattari, in A Thousand Plateaus, are skeptical that his work actually succeeds in doing what he intends it to. Before explicitly defining what they mean by their term “rhizome-book,” they identify two other models: the “root-book,” which is organized like a dichotomous tree in which one becomes two, two become four, and so on; and the “radicle-system,” in which the principle root has been aborted and a multiplicity of secondary roots have been grafted onto it. Burroughs' work is held up as an illustration of the radicle model:
Take William Burroughs' cut-up method: the folding of one text onto another, which constitutes multiple and even adventitious roots (like a cutting), implies a supplementary dimension to that of the texts under consideration. In this supplementary dimension of folding, unity continues its spiritual labor. (6)
Burroughs' cut-ups are thus consigned to the museum of modernist obsolescence along with Joyce and Nietzsche. In their respective works, “the world has become chaos, but the book remains the image of the world: radicle chaosmos rather than root-cosmos” (6). Deleuze and Guattari argue that the multiple is not made by adding more dimensions, but by subtracting a dimension from the number given in order to open the work to the forces of chance. Burroughs is thus figured as a mere “adding machine” (an ironic comment on his family heritage and his creation of the “Third Mind” with friend and collaborator Brion Gysin).
The model put forth to supplant both the tree and the radicle-system is the rhizome. “Certain approximate characteristics” of the rhizome are cited:
1 and 2. Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be. (7)
3. Principle of multiplicity: it is only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, “multiplicity,” that it ceases to have any relation to the One as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and world. (8)
4. Principle of asignifying rupture: against the oversignifying breaks separating structures or cutting across a single structure. A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines. (9)
5 and 6. Principle of cartography and decalomania: a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model.... a map and not a tracing.... The map has to do with performance, whereas the tracing always involves alleged “competence.” (12-13)
Despite Deleuze and Guattari's reservations, the relationship between chaos and life finds, to my mind, an enlightening expression in Burroughs' experimental sf texts. Living in the space between order and chaos, working within the tensions resulting from their interaction, Burroughs offers not merely the rhetoric of resistance, but sets his texts in motion as “soft machines” operating to deconstruct systematized communication. Although Burroughs has often been presented to the public as a writer of “new kinds of novels,”14 it is seldom emphasized that the “novel” form functions only as a margin that can be turned back on itself, used as a lever to create a tension between the expected order and the actual text that “spill[s] off the page in all directions” (Naked Lunch 270).
Using Deleuze and Guattari's terminology, one might think of Burroughs' texts, at their best, as also comprised of plateaus. Any given “chapter” of Naked Lunch, Nova Express, The Soft Machine, and The Ticket That Exploded may contain a number of plateaus which occur as intensities build between a text comprised of fold-ins of outlandish comedy routines, poetry, quotations and reports, the reader's gut reactions, and the rational mind searching fruitlessly for order. Initial exposure to the shocking or disgusting images Burroughs commonly employs might result mainly in a series of jolts to the nervous system, while prolonged exposure to severely cut-up text may leave one simply cross-eyed. The importance of the texts, however, according to the theories explored here, is not to be found in their immediate consumption, but in whatever the lasting effects they have on their readers' lives. As noted earlier, much of the “word horde” which came out of Burroughs' typewriter in the late 1950's was in fact designed to liberate Burroughs himself from his own upper class midwestern upbringing. In playing with (stereo)typical sf images, the sf works represent an attempt to re-write Naked Lunch in order to deal specifically with the kinds of technological and communicational crises which Burroughs, like Gibson a generation later, sensed were occurring all around him.
I have written about Burroughs' work largely in the past tense, but both he and his texts are very much alive, stimulating thinkers, writers and anarchists of all stripes. Though his books returned to a more narrative form in the 1970s and 1980s, he continued his experimentation with chaos in the 1960s through graphic collage and in the 1980s through shotgun-painting. His skill at using the spoken word has led to a proliferation of sound recordings and a corresponding invitation to the cyberpunk dance party just down the hall.15 And, like any counter-cultural icon, his image has finally been appropriated by consumer culture as a Nike television advertisement. If Warhol-as-reproducible-android represented the achievement of the BwO, then certainly Burroughs' living texts will soon qualify him as at least approaching that limit. Perhaps the best tribute to Burroughs' work along these lines is given by Gibson in Neuromancer, where he casts Burroughs' voice, personality and wisdom as McCoy Pauley, the Dixie Flatline. A ROM construct, the Flatline guides Gibson's protagonist in his cyberspatial mission. The resulting union of Wintermute and Neuromancer, though accomplished under duress, provides at least the birth of a new form of life even as it totalizes the Matrix. If we anarchist cyborgs similarly keep our ears tuned to Burroughs' voice, and consider its advice, we may be able to hope that our own science-fiction realities will result in a revolution of happy accidents instead of the world of corporate control which was the subject of Gibson's speculation.
1. Appropriations from Burroughs' texts are legion, including the musical term “heavy metal” (by Steppenwolf), band names “Steely Dan,” “Soft Machine,” “Mugwumps,” and “Insect Trust,” a Duran Duran song (“The Wild Boys”) and slogans such as “nothing is true; everything is permitted” and “storm the reality studio and retake the universe.” Book titles include Storming the Reality Studio (McCaffery), Across the Wounded Galaxies (McCaffery), and Soft Machine (Porush).
2. The Harper's article, “Playback from Eden to Watergate,” is reprinted in The Job (Odier).
3. Baudrillard and Ballard may have needed reconciling following the former's 1991 essay on the latter. Baudrillard's double essay “Simulacra and Science Fiction/ Crash” focuses on the hyperfunctionality of sex and the planned accident in Ballard's Crash. Ballard's response to the essay is to condemn any postmodern theoretical treatment of science fiction (Ballard 329).
4. These essays are to found in Baudrillard collections: “The Precession of Simulacra” in Simulations (NY: Semiotext(e), 1983), 1-79; “The Ecstasy of Communication” in The Ecstasy of Communication (NY: Semiotext(e), 1988), 11-27.
5. The Haraway essay Csicsery-Ronay examines, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (1985), is a reaction to the techno-scientific tendency to enforce cybernetic functioning throughout the world. Csicsery-Ronay cites Haraway: “Communications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move—the translation of the world into a problem of coding, a search for a common language in which all resistance to instrumental control disappears, and all heterogeneity can be submitted to disassembly, reassembly, investment and exchange” (Csicsery-Ronay 394). Haraway is shown to be aware of the tendency of language itself to betray the purest of desires. “Haraway never names her utopia,” writes Csicsery-Ronay. “This restraint comes from a precise sense of the historical lesson: utopia articulated tends to become the pretext for—and even the name of—the methodological domination of rationalization” (397).
6. Elsewhere in the issue, N. Katherine Hayles' short essay concerning the Baudrillard/Ballard debate takes note of the “performative” qualities of Baudrillard's text. She calls Baudrillard “as skilled a fiction writer as Ballard” (323), and writes: “One of my students described what if feels like to read Baudrillard for several hours straight. `No doubt about it,' he remarked, `it gives you a rush, a high.'.... But like any powerful drugs, they should be used with care” (323). Following this same path, Durham's later essay “The Technology of Death and its Limits” (1993) argues that “Baudrillard's work may be most usefully read as one articulation of a certain phantasy of postmodernity as a totalitarian operational system.” Following its own postmodern logic, the question to ask of Baudrillard's discourse is not whether or not it is true; neither is it, in Csicsery-Ronay's terms, to ask whether his imagined future is possible, probable, realizable or desirable. In Durham's terms, “its interest would not lie in the truth or falsehood of its claims, but in the effects of truth it exerts on those who entertain and elaborate it” (Conley 161).
7. This silence might be thought of as one thinks of as a Zen silence engendered by the repeating of a koan. In Serge Grunberg's terms, it consists of the “space” between the words. It is important to distinguish the Silence which is prescribed from another type of silence in Burroughs' work, “the silent frequency of junk,” which is manifest in the absence of forebrain activity in the junky's head, the complete absence of smell and the metabolism of “Absolute Zero” (Naked Lunch xvii). Randy Schroeder in his essay “Determinacy, Indeterminacy and the Romantic in William Gibson” (1993) relates the romantic silence he finds prevalent in Neuromancer to Zen, a “silence of presence...that perpetually outwits language” (Schroeder 158).
8. Control is equated by Burroughs with the Ugly Spirit, a possessor of humans that manifests itself in servile, compulsive and addictive behaviour. This excerpt from “Ah Pook, the Destroyer” (1982, 1990) illustrates his views on Control:
Ah Pook the destroyer—Hiroshima, 1945 August 6th, 15 minutes past 8 am—who really gave that order? Answer: Control—the Ugly American, the instrument of Control. Question: If Control's control is absolute, why does Control need to control? Answer: Control needs Time. Is Control controlled by its need to control? Answer: Yes. Question: Why does Control need humans as you call them? Wait—wait—a Time—a landing. Death needs Time like a junky needs junk. And what does Death need time for? The answer is so simple. Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook's sake. Death needs time for what it kills to grow in for Ah Pook's sweet sake you stupid greedy vulgar Ugly American Death Sucker.... Brion Gysin had the all purpose nuclear bed time story—the all purpose bedtime story, in fact. Some trillions of years ago a sloppy dirty giant flicked grease from his fingers one of those gobs of grease is our universe on its way to the floor—splat. (Burroughs 1990)
9. An aside in Naked Lunch makes this clear. “It is thought that the virus is a degeneration from a more complex life form. It may at one time have been capable of independent life. Now has fallen to the borderline between living and dead matter. It can exhibit living qualities only in a host, by using the life of another—the renunciation of life itself, a falling towards inorganic, inflexible machine, towards dead matter” (122).
10. Burroughs folded together not only his own work, but the daily newspaper and any other writers he saw fit to include. The “Forward Note” to Nova Express reads: “An extension of Brion Gysin's cut-up method which I call the fold-in method has been used in this book which is consequently a composite of many writers living and dead.” “I have seen enough examples to convince me that cut-ups are a basic key to the nature and function of words,” Burroughs told Odier (Odier 14). Though Burroughs himself has engaged in this extensively and advocates it, to some extent, for others, he has insisted that the cut-up is merely a technique and may not work for everyone.
11. An interesting example of the application of Burroughs' “fold-in” strategy is the evolution of the word “cyberspace.” One might propose that the cyberpunk era began when Gibson, feeling alienated while watching kids playing computer games, came up with the term “cyberspace.” “I concocted cyberspace,” Gibson has said, “by sitting at a manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper and writing a bunch of words with double space capital letters—`hyperworld'—`otherthere'—like, horrible things that would never stick—and I typed `cyberspace' and I thought—`oh, that's kind of sexy'” (CBC program from Toronto, Adrienne Clarkson Presents, 1991). Gibson's explanation of the origin of “cyberspace” as a fortunate accident does not, however, tell the whole tale. His own tidbit of sf theory, “Academy Leader,” acts as a trail of breadcrumbs which lead back to those early science-fictional writings of Burroughs:
He phases out on a vector of train whistles...leaving the faintest tang of Players Navy Cut and opening piano bars of East St. Louis, this dangerous old literary gentleman who sent so many of us out, under sealed orders, years ago....
Inspector Lee taught a new angle—frequencies of silence; blank walls at street level....
Assembled word cyberspace from small and readily available components of language.
Neologic spasm: the primal act of pop poetics. Preceded any concept whatever. Slick and hollow—awaiting received meaning.
All I did: folded words as taught. Now other words accrete in the interstices. (27)
In an interview with McCaffery, Gibson described his reaction to Burroughs this way:
what Burroughs was doing with plot and language and the sf motifs I saw in other writers was literally mind expanding.... I saw this crazy outlaw character who seemed to have picked up on sf and gone after society with it, the way some old guy might grab a rusty beer opener and start waving it around. (Across the Wounded Galaxies 144)
This suggests that Gibson's later claim that he had merely “folded words as taught” points not necessarily to the literal imitation of Burroughs' infamous fold-in techniques but also to the mission that Burroughs had sent him on as a youth back in the 1960's. “Ride music beam back to base” (“Academy Leader” 27) is a direct quote from Nova Express (67). Gibson's “tribute” to Burroughs is cemented, as Glen Grant argues, by the character McCoy Pauely, the “Dixie Flatline” who appears in Neuromancer, and whose “voice” is modeled after Burroughs' speech patterns (Grant 41-49).
As has been graphically demonstrated by the multitude of theoretical approaches to cyberspace currently on the market, Gibson's fold-in has been quite effective. On the other hand, the actual effect of Gibson's work on computer scientists and hackers has not necessarily been to liberate them from their mental habits. “It worries me,” he said in the 1991 CBC program, “that I've actually met scientists who have built machines that did certain things because they've read my books—it worries me because invariably they turn out to be humourless people with no sense of irony and they've missed what my books are actually about.” Software engineer Tim McFadden, for one, begins his essay “Notes on the Structure of Cyberspace and the Ballistic Actors Model” (Benedikt 335-62) with the admission that he was motivated by Gibson's writings.
12. The passage cited by Deleuze and Guattari functions as a set-up to the more famous “Talking Asshole” routine. The Talking Asshole routine has become one of Burroughs' most famous, both in the popular mind and in academic criticism. According to legend, Frank Zappa once read from it to a congressional committee investigating obscenity. It also appears in Cronenberg's film Naked Lunch (1992). Wayne Pounds uses the routine to establish a notion of the postmodern asshole. He refers to it as “a parody of the discourse of scientistic, behaviourist engineering” (219). The parody, in Pounds' mind, is a function of the carnival, which Burroughs invokes by literarily and physically inhabiting the Third World, and the anus is its central figure in Burroughs, usurping the First World of the Western Mind. While not arguing with Pounds' interpretation, I suggest that this particular routine can also be thought of as a parable of the relationship between body (shit) and language in constricting and deforming life; we should never have taught our assholes to talk, for a cancerous growth imprisoning us forever in the body may be the result.
13. The idea of “becoming” is central to Deleuze's work specifically. He retrieves it from the Stoics, who he argues differentiated between a “being” that is located in the present and a “becoming” that always eludes the present, that extends into the past and the future. It is can be called a state, it must be a state of passage. Deleuze treats this idea in depth in The Logic of Sense (trans. 1990), and it is integral to his subsequent work with Guattari, especially Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus (trans. 1977, 1987).
14. Even Jennie Skerl, author of the first major literary survey of his work on this side of the Atlantic (1985), feels obliged to treat his work this way. It has been said that Naked Lunch and the cut-up “trilogy” consisting of Nova Express, The Soft Machine and The Ticket That Exploded constitute a single novel and that his early seventies work and his early eighties work constitute two more. Others have gone so far as to suggest that all his written work is in fact drawn from the same novel.
15. Following the commercial success of the the Hal Wilner-produced CD's Dead City Radio (1990) and Spare-Ass Annie (1993), the latter a collaboration with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Burroughs has at last collaborated with Ministry, his obvious musical analog, on the single Just One Fix (1994). An imitation of a Burroughs spoken piece, entitled “Gila Copter,” appears on the CD Linger Ficken Good (1993) by the Revolting Cocks, a “weekend project” of the musicians from Ministry. Most recently, “They Called Him the Priest” has appeared, a CD single in which Kurt Cobain's noise-guitar is overlaid with a Burroughs' short-story reading.
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